The Loyal Conservative | Johnny Isakson

Senator Johhny Isakson
Senator Johhny Isakson of Georgia (Sarah L. Voisin - Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
Sunday, July 8, 2007

As an ambitious congressman running for the Senate in 2004, Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson strongly supported the Iraq mission as "the ultimate war between good and evil," while his Democratic rival Denise Majette demanded "a plan to get out."

Today, Isakson remains a war supporter. He still disagrees with Majette, but her call no longer strikes him as totally irresponsible. And his own assessment is tempered by the somber situation: The vital goal of Iraqis governing and defending themselves is "a work in progress," he concedes.

Like other conservative Republicans, Isakson makes no distinction between the war and the 160,000 U.S. troops who are serving in it. Democratic efforts to force an end to the conflict by cutting off funding seem to him like a direct slap to the troops. His state is home to numerous military sites, and it is part of Isakson's daily routine to e-mail and phone local soldiers and their families, to visit them in hospital wards and to shepherd their special requests. One soldier who lost a leg in Iraq worked for a time in Isakson's Senate office, riding to his Capitol Hill job on a Segway scooter.

However Congress proceeds in the months ahead, Isakson emphatically believes that funding should be off the table. "We should as a deliberative body debate the deployment of our troops, how it affects our foreign policy, what our end results are," Isakson said. "But to hold hostage the funds to feed, house, clothe and equip 150,000 people or more that you've got deployed -- all of whom are volunteers -- is just not right."

Iraq-Related Claim to Fame: While a House member, Isakson helped secure posthumous U.S. citizenship for Pfc. Diego Rincon, a native of Colombia who was the first Georgian to die in Iraq. The effort led to broader legislation that would apply automatically to all noncitizen soldiers killed on the Iraq battlefield.

Visits to Iraq: Isakson was part of the first congressional delegation to Iraq after elections there, in February 2005. He went back in 2006.

Toughest Moment: Summer 2005, standing by the choir loft in a packed church in tiny Ellijay, Ga., for the funeral of 1st Lt. Noah Harris, a former University of Georgia cheerleader who had signed up for ROTC after Sept. 11, 2001. "I cried," said Isakson, who had struck up an e-mail friendship with Harris. "It's personal to me."

Outlook:"Has the Iraqi government sufficiently done what it needed to do? And is the Iraq army . . . adequately capable of defending that government?" he said. "I'm not in the timetable business. I'm in the accomplishment business."

Most Persuasive Argument From War Opponents:"There needs to be an endgame."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company